A little over two and a half years after his untimely passing, master photographer Fan Ho is being celebrated with a new exhibition. As a photographer, actor, and film director, Ho amassed enormous acclaim over the course of his career, which began when he was a teenager. At the time, Ho used his father’s Kodak Brownie to capture the world around him, as he roamed the streets of Hong Kong.
Through Fan Ho’s photographs of street vendors, back alleys, marketplaces, and children not much younger than himself, we’re able to see a Hong Kong that has long since been lost. His incredible documentation of Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s led him to be dubbed “the Cartier-Bresson of the East.”
Though the photographer is better known for his stylized imagery, the new exhibit Fan Ho, Portrait of Hong Kong focuses on spontaneous images closer in feel to contemporary street photography. Opening on March 22, 2019 at the Blue Lotus Gallery in Hong Kong, the exhibit showcases selections from the last body of work selected by Ho himself.
In 2015, Ho embarked on a project to review his extensive archives and look for work that was previously unpublished. This project was an extension of his photography philosophies as written in his 1959 book Thoughts on Street Photography. Though Ho wrote it when he was just 28 years old, he was already keenly aware that some of his favorite photographs hadn’t yet had their moment to shine.
“My photographs with a strong pictorial aesthetic are still highly favored among the salons,” he wrote in the last chapter of the book. “Documentary style street photography or portraits are rarely selected although they are among my favorites. Maybe one day the opportunity will present itself for me to show this body of work. In the meantime, I will just keep trying.”
Prior to his passing in June 2016, Ho selected 500 negatives that he deemed worthy of publication. Shortly afterward, when he fell ill, his main concern was that the project would be brought to completion. Thanks to the help of Sarah Greene (director of Blue Lotus Gallery) and Ho’s family, his wish came to fruition. Though it took countless nights pulling all the negatives and ensuring they were scanned properly, a year later his wish became a reality. For Ho’s daughter Claudia, working so closely with the archive only enriched her understanding of her father.
“I knew and loved Fan Ho as my Father, I was never that much involved with his artistic career but this opportunity made me get to know him as ‘the artist,’ ” she shares. “The whole process was very healing and gave us the chance to be close to him and honor him by making his last wish come true.”
Through the publication of the book Portrait of Hong Kong, the world is able to see the Hong Kong Fan Ho experienced in his 20s. His incredible documentation shows a city in flux, with no hint of the skyscrapers that will soon overtake the urban skyline. Although black and white film was his preference, we also see surprising bursts of color, as Ho experimented with all the technology available to him at the time.
The exhibition places forty of his vintage photographs on display, giving the public another opportunity to discover a side of the acclaimed photographer that has rarely been seen. Fan Ho, Portrait of Hong Kong runs from March 22, 2019 until April 28, 2019 at Hong Kong’s Blue Lotus Gallery. The book by the same title will also be available for sale throughout the show.